Washington, DC –An historic coalition of women’s rights, civil rights, human rights, and reproductive justice groups including the National Organization for Women Foundation, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Legal Momentum, joined by 18 other organizations, including In Our Own Voice: The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Transformative Justice Coalition, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under the Law, filed an amicus brief yesterday in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals supporting the federal district court’s decision to prevent Alabama’s COVID-19 order from resulting in the denial of abortion access to the women of Alabama and the potential criminalization of abortion providers.
Alabama is using the COVID-19 pandemic to essentially ban abortions in Alabama, which would especially harm Black women, low-income women, minors, victims of domestic and sexual violence, and other marginalized groups seeking safe abortion care. For example:
- In Alabama, sixty percent of abortions are sought by Black women, and the majority of all women seeking abortion are low-income women.
- Alabama ranks third in the nation in maternal death rates, and
- Black women in Alabama are nearly five times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women.
- In Alabama, the Black community disproportionately accounts for 37 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases and a shocking 52 percent of deaths from COVID-19, even though they make up only 27 percent of the state population.
The amicus brief demonstrates how Alabama’s COVID-19 order, coupled with the state’s lengthy history of harassment and intimidation against abortion providers allows already hostile non-medical state officials broad latitude to second-guess the medical judgment of physicians, under threat of criminal prosecution, like lead plaintiff OB/GYN Dr. Yashica Robinson, in caring for their patients. Dr. Robinson, a Black physician who has been targeted by this harassment, testified for five hours before the federal district court in opposition to the order that could harm her patients.
"For 50 years reproductive health and justice has been central to Legal Momentum's mission of advancing safety and equality for women and girls. As we have done in dozens of cases over the years, we are proud to support the women of Alabama by filing this brief with our colleagues at the National Organization for Women Foundation and Feminist Majority Foundation and the numerous other women's and civil rights organizations that joined us," said Carol Moody, president and CEO of Legal Momentum.“Alabama lawmakers are using the COVID-19 crisis as a pretext to advance their longstanding obsession against abortion care, the health professionals who provide it, and the women who urgently need it, by labeling abortion non-essential healthcare. But we know that abortion delayed is abortion denied,” said Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women Foundation. “Alabama’s extremist anti-abortion law underlying this Order is meant to head to the US Supreme Court in hopes that it will overturn Roe v. Wade, punish women, jail physicians, and score political points, shredding constitutional reproductive rights and endangering women’s health.”
“Clearly, Alabama officials are using the COVID-19 crisis to severely restrict abortion access and to threaten criminal action against doctors during this pandemic with total disregard of women’s health and well-being. Outrageously, the women most impacted by this order, Black and low-income women, are also disproportionately victims of the coronavirus. It’s disgusting that the state is using this as a pretext to deny these women abortion. This order must be stopped,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
The brief urges the 11th Circuit to deny Alabama’s request to overturn District Court Judge Myron Thompson’s careful decision. Judge Thompson’s Order created a clear and enforceable standard for physicians to work with and continue providing essential abortion care during this pandemic. The amicus brief was prepared by the law firm Covington and Burling, LLP and the amiciare are tremendously grateful for their work on this vitally important brief.
Additional Amici Organization Quotes
“Our health and wellbeing depend on access to safe abortion. We are outraged that Alabama has put hard-working providers in fear of prosecution in this moment, and jeopardized access to needed medical procedures which cannot be put on hold during this pandemic,” said Mia Kim Sullivan, executive director, the Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program.
"As a Reproductive Justice organization, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda believes that all women should have access to full reproductive health care, including abortion care. The COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as an excuse to push an anti-abortion agenda,”said Marcela Howell, president, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda. “The last thing that Black women need to worry about is whether they can get reproductive health care during this Coronavirus pandemic. This is a time when we should all be pulling together to fight this virus, not infusing political agendas to score points at the expense of women accessing necessary health services."
“COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the health and economic wellbeing of communities of color across the country,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “States like Alabama are trying to use the pandemic as a pretext to push through unconstitutional restrictions to abortion. Alabama’s executive order stands to cause great harm to Black women and women of color, including those at the front lines of this pandemic by severely limiting their access to abortion care. We will fight tooth and nail to protect the constitutional and civil rights of communities of color during this pandemic, and to prevent the further entrenchment of long-standing systemic and structural barriers to healthcare and economic opportunity.”
“Alabama’s actions are an attack on reproductive freedom under the false cloak of public health. We are proud to join with this broad range of groups to support the district court’s decision to halt the implementation of Alabama’s harmful executive order. If allowed to proceed, this ban would harm our most vulnerable communities at a time of great personal need – particularly women of color, low-income women, and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“No health care provider should be forced to go to court to ensure their patients are able to access the essential health care they need. It is unacceptable to deny people access to abortion care at any point in time but it is unconscionable to use a pandemic as an excuse to do so,” said The Very Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.
"It is imperative to protect the rights of sexual assault survivors to the full range of reproductive health care especially during times of crisis. The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence condemns efforts to limit the options of vulnerable women," said Terri Poore, Policy Director, The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
“Judge Thompson was absolutely justified in limiting the enforcement of this blunderbuss and vaguely written Executive Order so that physicians and their patients can make truly individualized determinations about surgical procedures involving pregnancy during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Bradford M. Berry, general counsel of the NAACP. “The Court of Appeals should affirm Judge Thompson’s order.”
“Reproductive coercion is among the many tools abusers use to gain and maintain power and control over their victims,” said Ruth M. Glenn, president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “During the COVID-19 crisis, when we know that more women are experiencing domestic violence, it is critical that survivors can access comprehensive reproductive health care options. Restricting access to reproductive healthcare options strengthens the hands of abusers and harms survivors. And, just like the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting access to reproductive health care options disproportionately impacts marginalized communities.”
“Since National Council of Jewish Women’s (NCJW) founding in 1893, we have supported access to family planning and reproductive health care. NCJW was an early advocate for safe and legal abortion rights and access, and we continue our advocacy today at the local, state, and national levels,” said Jody Rabhan, chief policy officer of NCJW.“Our Jewish values teach us to respect the dignity and decisions of all people, and as such, we aim to create a world where everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, or immigration status, is able to control their body, sexuality, and future. Limiting this ability, as Alabama is attempting – particularly in the midst of a pandemic – is shameful. Those most impacted by Alabama’s efforts are the very same people most impacted by COVID-19 – disproportionately low-income communities, people of color, and domestic and sexual violence survivors.”
“A number of states hostile to women’s health and bodily integrity are using the COVID-19 pandemic disaster to limit access to abortion services. These moves risk the health of women at a time of crisis. SPLC is proud to join with The Feminist Majority and other organizations in challenging the exploitation of this health emergency to further harm women,” said Southern Poverty Law Center Interim Legal Director Kate Kendell.
“Alabama’s attempt to utilize a global pandemic as a means of banning abortion is egregious and unconscionable. Abortion is medically necessary health care and must be made accessible, especially to Queer and Trans young people of color and Black women. SPARK will continue to tirelessly advocate for our communities’ self-determination, bodily autonomy, and collective liberation.” –SPARK! Reproductive Justice NOW.
“As Black women have suffered the highest loss of loved ones to COVID-19 in Alabama, as Black women are the State’s frontline essential workers who struggle daily to be protected from harm in the workplace, we must not allow this pandemic to become the pretext for denying Black women the essential right to control their bodies, to obtain needed and timely abortions,” said Barbara R. Arnwine, president, Transformative Justice Coalition.
"There cannot be a worse time to force someone to be pregnant than during a pandemic. Abortion care is essential health care, and timely access to it is a basic human right," said Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney, Women’s Law Project.
About Legal Momentum
Legal Momentum is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1970 to advance the rights of women by using the power of the law and creating innovative public policy in three broad areas: economic justice, freedom from gender-based violence and equality under the law. For more information visit www.legalmomentum.org.